In case you missed it over the weekend, Gene Nichol was dead on in an op-ed blasting the University of North Carolina’s multimillion dollar expenditures on public relations firms in the wake of recent academic and athletic scandals. As Nichol rightfully points out, the notion that public institutions must turn to high-priced private consultants to clean up internal messes when they already employ a fleet of administrators whose job is to precisely that is crazy. Nichol highlights two of the most obvious reasons:
First, it’s a massive waste of precious resources:
“When we spend $10 million or $15 million on the nation’s most expensive lawyers and corporate consultants, we deploy funds that could have supported impoverished Carolina Covenant students, or increased skimpy graduate student stipends, or raised the salaries of maintenance workers. I’ve never heard the university admit this. So enough with the “it’s only private money” charade.”
Second, if existing staff aren’t up to the job, then why the heck are they there?
“Our greatest chancellor, William B. Aycock, died a few months ago. Dealing with crises like the Dixie Classic and the Speaker Ban, Aycock saw his share of trouble. Still, he never considered hiring ‘the most complete communications agency in the world.’
Thinking of Aycock, it’s easy to envision two distinct approaches to leadership and problem solving. In the first, decision-makers sit around a huge table in South Building. There is a chancellor and her cadre of assistants. And then a provost and his sizable group. Add to that our internal public relations team. And our external PR posse. Then there are internal and external groups of lawyers. As I said, it’s a big table.
They work for days, or weeks, responding to a crisis. Eventually a decision is made, and the group produces a statement to be issued by the chancellor. The final product is so chockablock with doublespeak that faculty members jokingly circulate email translations for the bureaucratically unschooled.
In the other model, Aycock returns to his campus office late in the evening after having had dinner with his family. He has consulted with university officials throughout the day. Now he sits behind his desk, a small lamp providing illumination. He makes the toughest decisions. And with pen and yellow legal pad, he explains them to the university community and to the people of North Carolina.
The first model, of course, costs millions. The second, a relative pittance. But the cheap route would outperform the big boys every time.”
Click here to read Nichol’s entire essay.